Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Whitley pupils tour the battlefields of Ypres

Written By Melissa O’Brien (student reporter), Ms Wright and Ms Ward

Ypres, 23rd - 26th September 2016

It was quarter past four in the morning and twenty students were about to set off for Belgium. Everyone was tired and some quickly fell asleep as we set off. Three hours later we arrived at the Shuttle. When we were on the tunnel we were allowed to get off the coach and look through the windows. We arrived in France an hour and a half later but had only been travelling 30 minutes - the time zone had changed.

Essex farm was our first stop. The cemetery was fairly colourful, lime scale grave stones and red poppies glistened in the afternoon. Miss Wright (our resident cemetery expert!) told us to find a particular gravestone. The gravestone said V.J Sturdwick. He had lied about his age, joined the army and died aged at just 15 years old!

In the evening we walked into the city centre.  As I was walking I was taking photos of the amazing scenery! We were given time to explore the town square. Of course I went straight to the chocolate shop. The man in the shop noticed we were Whitley Academy students and we got a special offer!

At 8:00AM on Saturday we heard a loud knock at the door. It was Miss Ward who is very lively in the mornings and expected us to be too. At 8:30am we went down for breakfast and they had such a wide variety; pain au chocolat, fruit and much more. After breakfast we visited the Flanders Field Museum.  This gave us lots of background information into the different events that happened in Ypres during the First World War. The videos told us stories about people who participated in the war.

Our first stop of the afternoon was a cemetery. Miss Wright told us again to find a grave. This cemetery was full of soldiers but we were looking for Nelly Spindler. She was a staff nurse who was buried with the soldiers. We went on to Hill 60 where Mr Newel told us about a World War One memorial which had bullet holes in it as this area had experienced fighting during the Second World War too.

After this we went to the death cells where soldiers who had deserted the trenches were sentenced to death. We learnt how most of these soldiers would have been very ill from their experiences in the trenches and today would get hospital treatment instead.

In the evening we went into Ypres again. This time to the world famous Menin Gate as it began to darken. The gate was lit up and we observed the daily service that takes place to remember those who died. The service was 20 minutes of pure peace and remembrance. Each day they read out the name of one soldier who died. It will take 150 years for them to read out every soldier’s name.

On Sunday we went to visit the trenches in the Somme.  They were very interesting and we heard lots of stories about the events of July 1916. We visited the Newfoundland Memorial Park which is owned by Canada.  The Canadians had purchased the site so that it could be kept as a permanent memorial site and it is run by students who told us why the site is important.

At Newfoundland Memorial Park you can see both the British and the German trenches. In no man’s land between the lines of trenches you can see all the holes made by the shells.  We learnt that the British and German trenches were the same the only difference was that the Germans were deeper. This had advantages and disadvantages.

After lunch we went to Thiepval Memorial where wreaths of poppies are left by visitors. Each wreath had its own message.  On the memorial it lists the names of the over 70, 000 British soldiers who went missing during the war and have not yet been found.

In the evening we got the opportunity to see how army uniforms and army medical treatment has changed over the years.  Some of us got to dress up and pretend to be injured soldiers.  The teachers then surprised us with some drinks and snacks as a last night treat.

On Monday morning we visited the German cemeteries. Compared with the British cemeteries we had visited, they were dull and lifeless. It was interesting how they were just stone, all randomly cut up. They are not cared for as much as the British ones. It was ironic how we heard church bells, which broke up the deathly silence.

We visited one last British cemetery before heading home. This one was particularly special as it contains the soldiers from Coventry who died in the war. We found the grave that belongs to Anthony Ward. He used to live at 29 London Road, Coventry, not far from our school. We then began the 8 and a half hour journey home. However the traffic wasn’t bad and we arrived back at our school two hours early at 5:30 PM!